What is parvo? Understand parvo in dogs with this definitive guide to the illness.

Caring for a pet does not come without complications. Dogs and cats, just like humans, are vulnerable to disease every time they step foot outside the house. Unfortunately, unlike humans, your canine companion can't always communicate to you what's wrong -- making it especially important to be knowledgeable about what kinds of maladies they might be at risk for.

Parvo for one is a disease that can be lethal in dogs and remains common despite there being an effective vaccine.

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What is parvo?

Parvo -- canine parvovirus, technically -- is an extremely contagious virus affecting dogs, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports. Though all dogs can contract the virus and get sick it is more likely to affect unvaccinated canines and young puppies.

Petco's Chief Veterinarian Dr. Whitney Miller describes Parvo as a viral disease that attacks a dog's immune and GI systems. "It's usually in younger pets," Dr. Miller told USA Today, adding "one of the silver linings of such a debilitating disease is that it's 100% preventable."

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How do dogs get parvo?

Dogs get parvo from interacting with other dogs, environments, or people who are contaminated with the virus the American Veterinary Medical Association reports. It can also be contracted through contact with infected feces.

Dr. Miller, who lives in Texas, says parvo is all too common in her area, which is part of the reason she suggests vaccinating your puppy when they are still young. "The virus is really, really tough and it can live in the environment for, 6 or 12 plus months in the right environment" she explains, "just increasing the risk of exposure for dogs."

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What are the first signs of parvo?

"A lot of times what pet parents are going to initially see is their pet not wanting to eat, just not themselves" Dr. Miller says. This will eventually progress to bloody diarrhea and vomit. It is best to seek medical care for your dog as soon as you notice something is wrong.

The American Veterinary Medical Association lists other key signs of Parvo as:

  • lethargy

  • loss of appetite

  • abdominal pain and bloating

  • fever

  • low body temperature (hypothermia)

  • vomiting

  • severe, often bloody, diarrhea

Can a dog survive parvo?

Yes. While Dr. Miller describes the disease as 'debilitating' it can be treated. "It can take a lot to pull these dogs through," she explained, "the number one recommendation is to make sure that when your dog's a puppy that they start on their vaccination schedule."

The key to your dog weathering parvo is early detection and treatment. Once you see the first signs it is advised you visit a veterinarian immediately before progression worsens the condition.

Can parvo be cured?

There is no specific drug which is known to kill the virus in dogs. Treatment instead involves supportive care until a dog is strong enough to fight off the infection with their own immune system. This means keeping your pet warm, and combating any dehydration caused by excessive vomiting or diarrhea.

When given the right treatment in a timely fashion, survival rates for parvo can be as high as 90%, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association reports.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is parvo? How dogs get it, symptoms and treatment, explained.